The Syrian state is currently engaged in conflict on two fronts-against the Saudi Arabia and, by proxy, American backed rebels, ensconced around Damascus, and seeking to overthrow President Bashar el Assad, and the Turkish intervention to decimate the anti-Ankara Kurdish groups operating from Syrian soil.

While the Russians have been helping Assad deal with the rebels, they have stayed hands off as far as the Turkish front is concerned. Syria has entered the 8th year of the civil war and there are some indications that the tide might be partly turning in Assad’s favour. This is obviously not sitting well with the Americans and the recent operations by the Syrian army against rebel bases in Eastern Ghouta, has led to a testy exchange between the Americans and Russia.

The Americans accused the Syrian army of using chemical weapons in their offensive and Nikki Haley the US Ambassador to the United Nations said that “We warn any nation determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering, but most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the United States remains prepared to act if we must.”

The Russian retort came from General Valery Gerasimov who said that if there was a threat to the lives of Russian soldiers, the Russian Armed Force would take retaliatory measures both over the missiles and carriers that use them. He said that the US was planning to strike Syria using the pretext of chemical weapons and that there was reliable information about the rebels planning to fake a Syrian government chemical attack against civilians to provide the US an excuse to take action.

The UN Security Council-including Russia-had voted for a resolution on February 24 calling for a 30 day ceasefire that excluded operations against "terrorist" groups in order to enable humanitarian aid and medical evacuations. But it did nothing to stop the fighting. Russia arranged five hour daily humanitarian pauses in eastern Ghouta but said the ceasefire was broken by the rebels who launched mortar shells at Damascus. U.N. coordinator Ali al-Za'atari said aid groups needed $150 million to provide urgent relief to a quarter-million people recently displaced by separate offensives by the Syrian government outside Damascus and by Turkish-led forces in the north. He said some 80,000 people had fled the government's offensive in the eastern Ghouta region east of Damascus, where shelling and airstrikes hade killed some 1,600 people in five weeks

The ferocity of the Syrian army's offensive in eastern Ghouta had prompted Western condemnation and urgent pleas from United Nations humanitarian agencies for a ceasefire. With the help of Russian airstrikes, the army had, since Feb. 18 managed to split the eastern Ghouta region, once a cluster of around 15 rebel-held towns spread east of Damascus, into three besieged zones.

Douma the headquarters of the Army of Islam (Jaish ul Islam) plus a few other places remain to be taken. In the region Russia had brokered deals leading to thousands of fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman groups ceding their towns to government control. With the backing of Russia and Iran, the Syrian government had forced rebels to surrender areas and withdraw to Idlib, where the United Nations described the conditions faced by hundreds of thousands of displaced opposition supporters as "catastrophic".

Clearing eastern Ghouta is imperative for Assad since it is just 15 kilometeres east of Damascus and had been touted by his opponents as the place from where the assault on Damascus would be launched to overthrow him. It was therefore with some satisfaction that Assad drove himself to a newly captured battlefront in eastern Ghouta. Syria has said that more than 120,000 residents had arrived on the government's side of the front lines around eastern Ghouta. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group put the number at 100,000.

The Army of Islam remains the last faction holding out against the government in eastern Ghouta. Russia had given them a deadline of 48 hours from Tuesday the 27th of March to agree to leave the town of Douma or face one last assault. The latest reports suggest that there is a lull in the attacks on Douma and an Army of Islam official based outside Syria had said that talks were continuing with the Russians. If the fighters agree to leave, they will follow some 25,000 others - fighters and civilians - who have travelled by bus to rebel-held northwest Syria instead of reconciling with the government.

The Army of Islam fighters are reluctant to be evacuated to Idlib, where other groups have been sent, as it would put its fighters in an area dominated by al-Qaida, against whom it had fought pitched battles in the past. The Russians rejected a request by some Army of Islam members to head to the southern province of Daraa. Such a move would bring the militants close to the Jordanian border, from where they would likely get assistance from Saudi Arabia.

If the Syrian army takes control of Douma it would be the rebels' heaviest defeat since 2016, driving them from their last big stronghold near the capital, and would also be very symbolic as the town was the main centre of street protests in the Damascus suburbs against Assad's rule that sparked off the civil war seven years ago.

Dealing with the Turkish intervention against the YPG would be trickier for Assad since the Russians are not militarily backing him there as they do not wish to alienate Turkey. Assad had tried to get the Kurdish YPG to place Afrin, their main base, under his control presuming, wrongly as it happened, that then Turkey would have to confront not just him but also his Russian ally. But the YPG refused to relinquish its control over Afrin. Meanwhile Turkish President Erdogan is sounding increasingly bullish.

After his forces and the Free Syrian Army, comprising some Kurdish units and Arab and Turkmen fighters, seized Afrin, Erdogan announced that the fight would be taken to other Kurdish areas of northern Syria and further east to Manbij and areas in the country east of the Euphrates. That could be potentially risky for Turkey since those areas are controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces and U.S. troops are stationed there. But given his present mood Erdogan just might move against the Kurds in that area. The Turkish President has also said that Turkish troops could cross into Iraq to drive out Kurdish militants from the region of Sinjar, if the Iraqi government is reluctant to oust militants from the area. Turkey says the region is becoming a headquarters for outlawed Kurdish rebels.

After taking over Afrin, a Syrian civilian council is being formed to govern the area, organised by Turkey and Syrian dissidents, including Abdelaziz Tammo, a Syrian Kurdish opponent of the YPG and PKK. "This is a liberation," Tammo told the New York Times, arguing that the YPG "took control [of Afrin] by force of arms and forced the people to live under their rule." What next for Bashar al Assad? US President Trump announced, while speaking in Ohio, that the US, which he said had wasted USDollars 7 trillion in wars in the Middle East, would pull out of Syria soon as the objective of beating Islamic State was almost accomplished. Would that mean that Assad would be secure in his Presidency or would Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, continue to act as the US proxy to keep Syria destabilized? Given Trump’s penchant for doing the unpredictable it is possible he might just leave Assad in place which would be a defeat for Saudi Arabia and a win for Russian and Iran. Or would the US troops be replaced with contractors, as Trump’s people had discussed for Afghanistan, and the fight would continue. Whatever happens Assad’s real problem is going to be Turkey since the Turkish President is determined to wipe out the Kurdish opposition. It remains to be seen whether at some stage, if Erdogan gets too aggressive, the Russians would stand besides Assad or one could see the Syrian polity split with some parts in effect controlled by Turkey and its proxy warriors and members of Assad’s opposition.